After Edwyn Collins suffered two strokes in 2005, followed by a dose
of MRSA, one might reasonably have expected his music career to be over. Within
two years, near-miraculously, he returned to the live stage, and released Home
Again, the album he’d all but completed prior to his illness.
Even then, it seemed unlikely that
this beloved Scot, who started out in the post-punk group Orange Juice and
scored a massive worldwide hit with 1994’s A Girl Like You, would ever write
and record again. Earlier this year, he falteringly explained how brain damage
still makes it difficult for him to converse normally, and how his urge to
compose music initially deserted him.
Parents of coma blink patient
Richard Rudd speak of emotional turmoil one night, however, he sat up in bed
and asked his partner, Grace Maxwell, to fetch a tape recorder, on which to
capture a melody running through his head. Thus arose the title track from this
He’d been feeling pent-up; he
realised, from not being creative, and had been losing sleep over it, literally
— hence its title. In the weeks ahead, he had many more melodic visitations in
the wee hours, lending the concept of losing sleep a happier connotation.
Unparalleled as its genesis is,
Collins’s seventh solo record is also exceptionally good – an absolute ray of
sunshine. He says that he wanted it to be up-tempo and direct, where its
predecessor was downbeat and, he now believes, foreboding. That title track
gets it under way with a bone-crunching Northern Soul beat, as if defiantly to
say: “No need for sympathy here!”
His singing voice, unlike his
speaking voice, is remarkably as-was. In the song’s lyrics — “I must believe/ I
must retrieve the things I know/ The things I miss about my life” — Collins muses
on the loss of his memory and creativity, but with a vigorous, mood-elevating
Throughout, he explores the
emotional impact of his illness in such consummately artful language as to make
it seem universal. On What Is My Role?, a duet with the Cribs’s Ryan Jarman, he
ponders over his sense of dislocation and his mood swings. In another
collaboration, Do It Again, with Franz Ferdinand, he joyously celebrates the
return of song writing’s liberating power.
So, Losing Sleep is as much about
human solidarity as it is individual strength, and music’s capacity to heal.
It’s incredibly moving, but also, hands down, the most uplifting guitar-pop
album of the year.